Festival de Cueca
Photos by Lois Porter

From "Travel Lady Magazine", an article by Marguerite Jordan

“ Demurely but with a seductive smile, she lifts her skirts to display her ankles… Gradually she melts his heart of stone, and as he now advances, she coyly retreats…The dance quickens, intensifies, art gives way to passion, and now, the conquest achieved, they encircle each other with their arms in a warm embrace.”

When I first saw the national Chilean dance, La Cueca, performed in a nightclub in Santiago, in my mind I compared it – with less favor -- to the Argentinean tango. Up on stage handsome men – dressed as huasos, with cowboy hats and spurs, and beautiful women in colorful flirty skirts, were dancing to up-tempo folkloric music.

“A charming dance,” I thought, “but, definitely not provocative.”

Everyone in the packed-to-capacity audience raised an arm and twirled his or her white handkerchief at set points in the performance. The well-dressed men and women
I watched at the other tables at the Bali Ha’i, a popular downtown restaurant, performed their small off-stage role with pride and …something else, secret pleasure?

It was as if they too were part of the stage performance. Now that was interesting. But what could it mean? A photograph of the twirling white hankies was what I wanted most, to capture the ritualism of it all. Yet, in the dimly lit restaurant, I had a hard enough time photographing the band and the dancers performing La Cueca.

We were much luckier than Marguerite Jordan: we attended a Cueca competition in the Civic Plaza of Valparaiso, along with a few hundred enthusiastic and excited local fans. This is Cueca Week in Valparaiso, with competitions in the Civic Plaza several nights, followed by "Festival Nacional de Cueca" at the Caleta El Membrillo Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. These photos are from Tuesday evening, when 10 couples in the "18 years and older" class competed, with the group "Los Huasos de Pancho" providing music and frequent humor.

After some warm up with audience couples dancing, the 10 competing couples were introduced and all 10 danced one Cueca. Then the contestants danced 3 cuencas each in groups of 2 couples at a time. Each time, after the second cueca, a young couple brought out water in cow horns to give the dancers a drink, so they could do the third round with full energy. And the third was indeed more energetic. With one exception, all the dancers were in full Huaso costume, including knee-high boots with spurs as well as big flat sombreros for the men. The women's dresses look similar to USA western square-dance outfits. There is a set pattern for each cueca, starting with strolling arm-in-arm, followed by facing two paces apart and clapping, then the singing starts and the steps begin, with much handkerchief twirling. Each couple does the dance a bit differently, but within a firm structure. They leave a clear impression that they are having the time of their lives.

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